Swedish duo SHXCXCHCXSH don’t make things easy for themselves, but such is the mystique that their arresting name and sounds generate, perhaps they don’t need to.
On their latest album they make things equally difficult for easily-deterred listeners, creating something genuinely memorable in the process.
This is arguably a concept album with no concept but its own development, with each successive track adding an ‘Ss’ at the end of the previous track title until on track 15 it reaches the title track and the evolutionary process is completed (perhaps). Very simple elements are allowed to play out, evolve and merge over time, in a manner that can’t easily be related to traditional techno track narratives, let alone traditional modes of musical development.
An album based on such strategies can be maddening or mesmerising, but perseverance is definitely rewarded and the black holes of terminal self-indulgence that could suck in such an exercise are (sometimes audibly) resisted. ‘Ss’ is a gentle start based on looping arpeggios, with a vaguely concerning hint of a new age agenda that undersells the album to come.
Things get fully underway with ‘SsSs’, which will instantly transport some listeners to the late 1990s golden age of innovative, theoretically-reinforced electronica associated with the Mille Plateaux label. With its vocal-like chorale sounds, spindly percussion and warm, washed-out chords, it evokes the optimistic, progressive atmosphere of renowned Mille Plateaux artist SND, whose work was recently reissued.
‘SsSsSs’ comes across as more of a technical exercise based around repeated descending chords that are drenched in reverb and create a very evocative atmosphere from simple elements.
Complexity doesn’t preclude emotion or power, as ‘SsSsSsSsSs’ demonstrates. Repeatedly percussive grooves create the sense of something elegantly evolving. In defiance of its simple elements the result is quietly but emphatically epic.
As the album evolves its strategy becomes clear. It generates and re-generates intricate, recombinant sequences that generate an aesthetic through the intensive repetition of basic elements, as if a sample pack were audibly evolving into sound art. ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs’ is a study in space and depth, a slow, extended, dialogue between percussive impacts, delay and reverb.
At the midpoint of the album ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs’ is a more dramatic and tense interlude, in line with Avian’s exploration of tension as aesthetic. The following ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs’ is arguably the album’s’ most dramatic moment, marked by deep impacts and a nervous theme, poised precisely on the brink of whatever succeeding fall or ascent the listener allows themselves to imagine.
In the final section of the album different twists on the formula surface as the track titles become ever longer and the concept more extensively worked out. ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs’ intensively works through smeared, chilling, tones and muffled but powerful percussive layers that slowly but surely erode whatever preconceptions they come into contact with. The percussion on ‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs’ is sparser, with echoing chord sequences generating most of the effect, inviting comparisons with Autechre’s more ethereal works.
‘SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs’ is a shorter but powerful conclusion – an array of spiralling frequencies and rough, deep excavation wrought by a slowly scything sequence. Paradoxically, it would work well as a high impact introduction to a set and choosing to close with this track seems to signify a final refusal to conform to expectations by providing an obvious final destination to the journey in which it’s possible to relax. Instead, they signal further development and invite speculation as to what might be next.
Throughout the course of the journey the horizon is subtly shifting and mirage-like forms of sonic architecture emerge, shimmer and vanish in the distance. Perspective and expectations need constant re-calibration to navigate this fascinating, radical work that generates a sense of motion without velocity and drama without event.
Avian 2×12” // Cassette // Digital Download AVNLP003